“Menopause is the time that marks the end of your menstrual cycles. It’s diagnosed after you’ve gone 12 months without a menstrual period.”

At some point in every woman’s life, her ovaries stop producing eggs and her levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone decline. Over time, what used to be monthly periods start happening less often. This process is called perimenopause, or the menopausal transition. When you’ve stopped menstruating for one complete year, you are said to be “postmenopausal” and no longer able to get pregnant.

Managing menopausal symptoms:

Most women go through menopause as a natural part of the aging process, right around age 51 on average — some sooner, some later. But if you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer before menopause, some of your treatments could bring on menopause more quickly and more abruptly than you expected. This is called medical or surgical menopause or induced menopause.

Some breast cancer treatments can bring on menopause more abruptly than it would happen otherwise. Again, this is called medical menopause if it’s caused by medicines such as chemotherapy, or surgical menopause if it’s caused by removal of the ovaries. Medical menopause may be a temporary state that lasts while you’re in treatment and for some time afterwards, or it can be permanent. Surgical menopause is always permanent.

With medical and surgical menopause, the ovaries stop functioning and hormone levels fall right away (surgical menopause) or over a period of weeks or months (medical menopause) — not over a few years, as usually happens with natural menopause. The suddenness of surgical menopause can cause intense symptoms for younger premenopausal women. Medical menopause tends to feel more similar to natural menopause. However, the experience really depends on the individual woman.

Symptoms of menopause:

In the months or years leading up to menopause (perimenopause), you might experience these signs and symptoms: • Irregular periods • Vaginal dryness • Hot flashes • Chills • Night sweats • Sleep problems • Mood changes • Weight gain and slowed metabolism • Thinning hair and dry skin • Loss of breast fullness Symptoms and signs, including changes in menstruation can vary among women. Presumably, you’ll experience some irregularity in your periods before they end. Skipping periods during perimenopause is common and predictable. Symptoms may come on more quickly than they would with a more gradual natural menopause. Although these symptoms can be painful for anyone, they can be particularly hard to deal with if you’re in your 20s, 30s or early 40s and now find yourself “feeling menopausal”

a good 10 to 20 years before you expected. For younger women who have their ovaries removed, which reduces hormone levels literally overnight, menopausal symptoms can be particularly intense. Early menopause also can raise concerns about the longer-term effects of spending more years without estrogen, such as bone loss.